Monday December 11, 2017
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Relief fund misuse and Fadnavis’ misplaced priorities

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By Sapan Kapoor

Over 650 debt-ridden, wretched farmers have committed suicides in BJP-ruled Maharashtra in this year alone. The extent of the problem can be realized by the fact that the state government has declared 14,708 villages as drought-hit.

The Bombay High Court has even issued notice to the Devendra Fadnavis-led government seeking its response on the increasing number of farmer suicides in the state due to drought.

“Tell us what steps you are taking and what the ground level situation is,” a bench of justices Naresh Patil and S B Shukre asked.

The government pleader informed the court that farmers were being counseled by psychiatrists, loans and electricity charges were being waived, banks and cooperative societies were told not to recover loans.

It is a pity that when the state is reeling under such a severe crisis, a query filed under the Right to Information Act by activist Anil Galgali has revealed that CM Fadnavis granted Rs 8 lakh from the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund for a government employee’s dance group Sachivalaya Gymkhana’s visit to Thailand from December 26-30 last year.

Fadnavis, however, denied any wrongdoing over the alleged misuse of relief fund.

“The Chief Minister’s Relief Fund has separate accounts for drought relief. For cultural activities, 25 per cent of the fund is reserved. Out of that we sponsor people for cultural activities,” Fadnavis said.

This apparent insensitivity and callousness shown by the Chief Minister and his party over this pressing issue should be condemned in no uncertain terms. But, he is not the only one in the saffron party who has been accused of being injudicious in his approach in dealing with sensitive issues. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s incessant, whirlwind foreign trips to 20 countries from June 2014 and June 2015, an RTI query has revealed, has cost the exchequer over Rs 37 crore as well, inviting sharp criticism from various sections of the society.

I am in no way suggesting that our PM should give his world tour, selfie spree a break and instead look at the plight of poor farmers, for his supporters claim that his visits abroad – twice to the USA – have helped India in getting business and much needed foreign investment.

I am all for investment and business coming to India, for that will bring along with it jobs for the unemployed youth who rallied behind the PM during his election campaign and voted for him in large numbers.

CM Fadnavis and PM Modi have, however, failed to understand that in a country like India where over 60 per cent people live below the poverty line, the government ought to get its priorities right and ensure optimum use of available resources.

Thus, Rs 8 lakh that Fadnavis showered upon the babus for their junket from his relief fund or over Rs 37 crore that PM Modi spent on his world tour could have perchance saved many lives. For since December 2014 to October this year over 650 farmers have been forced to commit suicide. But, perhaps expecting humanity, moral righteousness and due consideration from our leaders seems like asking for too much of them.

When a BJP leader draws a puppy analogy while speaking about the brutal murder of two Dalit children, when a Sadhvi uses expletives against a community during an election speech, when a Union Minister terms Dadri lynching as an ‘accident’ and when the head of a state gets his priorities wrong, we should look within and introspect.

As Joseph de Maistre, a French philosopher, once said, “Every nation gets the government it deserves.”

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Narendra Modi App : Amazing Platform where Prime Minister connects with the citizens

Wanna give ideas to or interact with Prime Minister Narendra Modi? Go and download Narendra Modi app on android and iOs

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Narendra Modi App
Prime Minister Narendra Modi (FILE PHOTO)

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has an amazing sense of connecting with masses. Prime Minister knows the nerve of Indian public and at various instances proves himself as a pan Indian leader. Prime Minster Modi is undoubtedly one of the most tech-savvy global leader and a big promoter of e-governance and m-governance since a long time. Within two months of assuming Prime Minister-ship, he had launched the ambitious myGov project. In continuing the tradition of citizen connect, Prime Minister Modi took another step towards connecting with the people at their convenience by launching Narendra Modi app couple of years back.

Narendra Modi app
Prime Minister launching Narendra Modi App

The Narendra Modi app provides updates on the day-to-day activities of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It presents an opportunity to receive messages and emails directly from Shri Narendra Modi. There is also an option to contribute and earn ‘badges’ through to-do tasks in various social initiatives. Through Narendra Modi app, one can tune-in and listen to the various episodes of ‘Mann ki Baat’, read Prime Minister Modi’s blogs, and get to know more about him from his Biography section. Narendra Modi app also provides comprehensive information on initiatives and achievements of the Union Government, which has an ‘infographics’ section for insights.

Such type of initiative by a global leader gives a strong message how technology can be used by governments to bridge gap between leaders and citizens. apart from this app Prime Minister Modi is also very much active on various social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. Prime Minister Modi is the one of the most followed global leader on Twitter.

So what are you waiting for. Go and share some ideas of innovation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and contribute in his vision of “Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas”.

– by SHAURYA RITWIK, Shaurya is Sub-Editor at NewsGram and writes on Geo-politcs, Culture, Indology and Business. Twitter Handle – @shauryaritwik

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Cleaning of Ganga is not impossible, but it is very difficult.

The holy river is also one of the most polluted river

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Ganga in Haridwar
A pile of garbage lies on the riverbank along the Ganges riverfront known as "Har ki Pauri," the most sacred spot in the Hindu holy town of Haridwar where devotees throng. VOA

– Saket Suman

About five years ago, when Financial Times journalist and author Victor Mallet began living in Delhi, he was shocked to discover that the Yamuna — “this beautiful river of Indian legend and art” — was chocked with untreated sewage and industrial waste after it had passed through the city on its way to Mathura, Agra and on to join the Ganga at Allahabad He wondered “how a river so sacred to so many Indians could also be so polluted and neglected” and then set out to record the plight of the Ganga.

His exhaustive journey led him to various key locations on the river, including its source at Gaumukh and Sagar Island and the Sunderbans at its mouth in the Bay of Bengal. This culminated in the publication of “River of Life, River of Death” (Oxford University Press/Rs 550/316 pages).

“My conclusion is that it is not impossible (to clean the Ganga) — but it is very difficult. Narendra Modi is the latest of several Indian prime ministers to announce plans to rescue the Ganga — in fact, I would say he has been the most fervent — but like his predecessors, he has struggled to implement these plans despite the availability of funds from India itself and from international donors such as the World Bank and Japan.

“Clearly, the Ganga has enormous problems of physical pollution from sewage, industrial toxins and pesticide run-off. Too much of the water is diverted for irrigation in the dry season, which can leave parts of the river without water before the monsoon. But with political will and public support — I don’t think anyone in India objects to saving the river — it can be done,” Mallet told IANS in an email interview from Hong Kong.

The important thing, he maintained, is to change mindsets and he noted in this context that it is quite common among devout Hindus to say: “Ma Ganga is so spiritually pure that nothing we throw in the river will sully her or make a difference.”

The author said that sensible holy men and environmentalists who care for the Ganga term this as nonsense — and the reason it’s not true is that the Ganga’s very spiritual power arises from its physical properties as a life-giver, as a provider of water and fertility.

“That’s why rivers have always been worshipped in ancient times, including in England. So if you destroy the river’s life-giving qualities through pollution, you destroy the source of her spiritual importance,” he added.

In the book, he also states that it is not impossible to clean the Ganges, “as river clean-ups in Europe and America have shown”.

Elaborating on this, he said: “When I was a child living in London, my mother always told me not to fall in the Thames because the river was so filthy that if I fell in I would have to go to hospital and have my stomach pumped! Yet today the Thames is clean — muddy, but virtually free of industrial pollution and untreated sewage — because successive governments and water and sanitation companies have stopped the pollution.

“The same is true of the Rhine in continental Europe and the Chicago river in the United States. The great thing about rivers is that you don’t have to scrub them clean — you just have to stop polluting them and the natural flow of the river does the rest.”

Mallet maintained that the record on the Ganga has so far been disappointing in terms of implementation, but hoped that there will be a change now that there is a new minister in charge.

“If you clean the Ganga by improving sanitation, you not only save the goddess, you also create thousands of jobs in infrastructure development, and save the lives of thousands of children who die each year because of bad water, poor hygiene and stomach bugs. Likewise, if India curbs its greenhouse gases — and this seems to be happening anyway because alternative energy such as solar power is now very competitive on price — then that will also help it to reduce the kind of air pollution that has recently been afflicting Delhi and the whole of North India,” he maintained.

Mallet went on to add that he learnt a lot about the mythology and the history of the river — and the history of India — in the course of his research for the book.

“In a way, India is so rich in civilisations and stories that you can never say you have completed your work as a researcher and writer. You can at least make a start, and also explain the contemporary political, social, religious and environmental issues that affect the river and the country as a whole,” Mallet said. (IANS)

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Will India be able to travel in the Bullet Train Soon? Yes, Say Railway Officials; Indian Railways Target Completing the Project Before the August 2022 Deadline

The foundation stone for the Rs 1.08 lakh crore ($17 billion) 508-km Ahmedabad-Mumbai Bullet Train was laid in Ahmedabad by Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe on September 14

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Bullet Train
Railway Board Chairman held a high-level meeting in Rail Bhavan last Thursday which was attended by Japanese Ambassador Kenji Hiramatsu, and Niti Aayog Vice Chairman. (representative image) Wikimedia

New Delhi, November 10, 2017 : Unfazed by opposition criticism, Indian Railways is working overtime to push ahead with the much-talked about the “Bullet Train” project, aiming to complete it ahead of the August 2022 deadline set by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Railway Board Chairman Ashwani Lohani, who has a reputation of a turnaround man, has taken up the task of monitoring and chairing the periodic review meetings of the project that is estimated to cost over Rs 1 lakh crore ($15 billion).

Lohani held a high-level meeting in Rail Bhavan last Thursday which was attended by Japanese Ambassador Kenji Hiramatsu, Niti Aayog Vice Chairman Rajiv Kumar, Central government officials, Principal Secretary-rank officials of Gujarat and Maharashtra, officials of NHSRCL (National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited), officials of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the General Manager of Western Railway.

A senior railway board member, requesting anonymity, told IANS, “The railways is in no mood to delay the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Bullet Train project. Lohani will now hold a review meeting once every three months… And even on weekly basis, if required.”

Emphasising on the government’s intention, the official said, “The attendance of the Niti Aayog Vice Chairman, the Japanese Ambassador and the CRB in the review meeting is a clear signal that the government is taking the project seriously and there is no scope for any delay.”

“The CRB wants Indian Railway officials to take lessons from their Japanese counterparts about meeting deadlines,” he said.

The opposition has attacked the government for taking up a project at a huge cost instead of focusing on safety, a dire need of the time, and on schemes to improve passenger amenities.

The official said it was also decided at the meeting that “a road map for consultancy and civil engineering works will be prepared by January 2018”.

A ministry official associated with the Bullet Train project said a report on the signalling system and electrical reports would be ready by April 2018. According to him, the tracks and most of the signalling system would be brought from Japan.

The foundation stone for the Rs 1.08 lakh crore ($17 billion) 508-km Ahmedabad-Mumbai Bullet Train was laid in Ahmedabad by Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe on September 14.

Of the Rs 1.08 lakh crore, Japan is giving a loan of Rs 88,000 crore at a minimal interest of 0.1 per cent for 50 years. And the repayment will begin only after 15 years.

The railway official said that to encourage the Prime Minister’s ambitious ‘Make in India’ programme, “an appeal will be made to Indian and Japanese companies to make use the opportunity to work together”.

Meanwhile, the officials of the government of Maharashtra and Gujarat assured the railways of their help in land acquisition and smooth shifting of raw materials to construction venues.

A three-level monitoring committee was also constituted, including the Vice Chairman of Niti Ayog and Special Advisor to Japanese Prime Minister.

A working group led by Managing Director of NHSRCL Achal Khare and consisting of representatives of the ministries concerned, and the representative of JICA, has been formed. Besides the two committees, a technical expert committee led by the Managing Director of NHSRCL has also been formed.

Of the 508 km stretch, 92 per cent (468 km) of the route will be elevated, six per cent (27 km) will be in tunnels and the remaining two per cent (13 km) will be on the ground .

The high-speed train would also pass through the country’s longest tunnel of 21 km, of which seven km will be under the sea.

Twelve stations have been proposed that include Mumbai, Thane, Virar, Boisar, Vapi, Bilimora, Surat, Bharuch, Vadodara, Anand, Ahmedabad and Sabarmati.

The distance will be covered in two hours and seven minutes if the train stops at four stations — Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Surat and Mumbai. If the train stops at all 12 stations, it will cover the distance in two hours and fifty-eight minutes.

According to Railway Ministry officials, the operating speed of the bullet train would be 320 kmph and the maximum speed would be 350 kmph.

 

(Editorial note : This article has been written by Anand K. Singh and was first published by IANS. Anand can be contacted at can be contacted at anand.s@ians.in)